Travellers who have seen the world from the perspective of cheap hostels still shudder at the memory of grimy dorms, electric-shock-inducing sheets and bathrooms you don’t want to think about. But budget travel isn’t what it used to be, and hostels have had to up their game.
The hostel market has moved on from merely painting everything in neon colours in a vague attempt to look modern. A new breed of premium hostels has set a new standard, with Generator among the leaders. Set up by brother and sister Louise and Kingsley Duffy in 1995, it started with a hostel in London and one in Berlin. When it was bought in 2007, the company’s expansion took off, and there are now 13 scattered around Europe and one in Miami.
Generator soon became the byword for cool, design-led hostels that are much more than just a base for a city break. It’s part of the destination itself, and it’s this experience of staying in a chic, convivial space in the heart of a city that has chimed with travellers.
Quality is becoming a given, but the true differentiator is the ability to create the ‘collegial’ vibrant atmosphere... - Nuno Sacramento, Safestay Hostels
Safestay Hostels has a similar approach. Since 2012, it has been turning historic city-centre buildings – including a Jacobean mansion in London’s Holland Park – into stylish hostels around Europe. Nuno Sacramento, its Chief Operating Officer, says travellers nowadays expect “cleanliness, safety and a vibrant experience”.
“Quality is becoming a given, but the true differentiator is the ability to create the ‘collegial’ vibrant atmosphere – somewhere you would easily meet people and want to chill out,” he says. “We are invested in creating stylish, clean and safe environments and we think we have discovered a formula that works. Ultimately, differentiation has to come from great service and ensuring we are delivering on the experience our target guests are looking for.”
CODE Hostel in Edinburgh
Not surprisingly, these target guests are aged between 21 and 35. “Hostels are a millennial perfect fit,” says Sacramento. “Millennials travel more than any segment and spend 50% of their income on leisure. They will value experience over the clinical experience of a value hotel brand.”
These shifting views towards hostels and the growth of premium brands are things Andrew Landsburgh has witnessed in the four years since he set up CODE Hostel in Edinburgh.
“The more quality companies that are out there, the more people will use hostels,” says the Founder and Managing Director. “People aren’t seeing hostels as a last-case option. It’s more a first-case option. In places where people are competing solely on price, that actually doesn’t work any more. People who get the customers aren’t the people who are charging the least amount of money. It’s the people who are providing the best product.”
Landsburgh didn’t have the space to create private rooms, apart from one penthouse apartment with a roof terrace and a kitchen. While his next hostel he is developing in Dublin will have 400 beds, his Edinburgh property has been divided into 30 Asian-style pods within dorms, an idea Landsburgh picked up while travelling in Singapore. These have proved a big hit among his millennial guests, particularly the ones from Asia who are already familiar with the concept.
Importance of tech
Changes in technology are also shaping the hostel experience. Landsburgh set up an entry system in which guests receive a trackable, unique code via text or email which gives them access. He had looked at mobile phone technology, but his own experiences with drained batteries put him off the idea. “There are definitely changes afoot in terms of self check-in and how to get into your room,” he says. “I don’t know how they do it, but there are places that use biometrics so you can get in via your fingerprint, which is pretty cool.”
Budget travel goes well beyond hostels and value brands such as Ibis and Travelodge. Nicola Erlich, who is in charge of PR for holiday rental firm Spain-Holiday.com, points out the Spanish option of paradores. These state-run properties are usually historic buildings such as monasteries and castles that have been converted into luxurious yet strangely affordable accommodation. “Prices are normally in the region of €100-150 per night for a double room, which makes them an attractive option for a weekend break,” she says.
Erlich has also noticed the rise in renovated city-centre apartments. “Previously, budget accommodation in a prime location would be quite basic – a bed to sleep in and little more,” she says. “But in recent years old apartments have been renovated and decorated in the style of a boutique hotel, yet are still in the budget price range bracket. Barcelona is an excellent example, where luxury designer apartments can work out to €18 per person per night.”
Although the days aren’t yet numbered for the scratchy-sheets brigade, it seems the choice for the traveller is more style for less money.
You might also want to read:
- Travellers want a vibrant, “collegial” shared space when staying in hostels
- Premium hostels target millennial travellers, who spend 50% of their income on travel
- Guests look at hostels as a first choice, rather than a last resort
- Quality wins over price in competitive areas
- Asian-style pods are growing in popularity